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Newsom pledges to serve all 4 years in one and only 2022 gubernatorial debate

San Francisco Chronicle 10/24/2022 By Joe Garofoli, It’s All Political

The underdog Republican candidate for California governor, state Sen. Brian Dahle, used his one shot to debate Gov. Gavin Newsom face to face Sunday to rip the governor as “someone who talks real slick and smooth” but delivers little.

“What he’s done in the last four years is just throw money at every single issue — more than there’s ever been —and what are the results for Californians? Higher gas prices, inflation, homelessness on our streets, our schools are failing our children and people are fleeing California,” Dahle said.

Newsom, meanwhile, belittled Dahle for regurgitating “Big Oil’s talking points” and opposing abortion rights, and called him long on criticism but short on solutions.

“You’re just laying out talking points, but no substance,” Newsom said to Dahle during a question about drought relief. Newsom said Dahle’s responses were “only a fog in terms of the dilution of reality and facts that you are promoting here today on these critical topics for the people of California.”

Their tussle probably did little to change the trajectory of the race, where Dahle is little known and has little cash to spend to introduce himself. Newsom has a 53% to 32% lead among likely voters, according to an October Berkeley IGS poll — a Half Dome of a lead to scale two weeks before Election Day.

The lively hour-long debate was held during anti-prime time — 1 p.m. on a Sunday on public radio station KQED and streamed live — but not broadcast on TV until later in the day. The smart money is on more people having watched the San Francisco 49ers game airing at roughly the same time. Or basking outside on a lovely sunny California afternoon.

If many voters were unaware of Sunday’s debate, it was partially because fewer are interested in the governor’s race than were four years ago. Only half of likely voters are closely watching the governor’s race, according to a September survey from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, compared with 62% who were closely monitoring it four years ago.

Here are three takeaways from Sunday’s debate:

All about the gas: Dahle, a farmer from the Lassen County town of Bieber (population 156) who also owns a small trucking firm, repeatedly brought up California’s high gas prices to argue that Newsom is out of touch with working-class voters struggling to make ends meet a s inflation remains high. The average price for a gallon of gas in California was $5.75 Sunday — roughly $2 more expensive than the national average, according to AAA.

“Californians are fleeing California for one reason: because they can’t afford to live here,” Dahle said. “He’s out of touch with everyday, hardworking, middle-class California. Yes, his elite friends can afford Teslas at $70,000, but Californians on the who le have no opportunity but just to suffer from the policies he put forth.” (New 2022 Teslas start at $46,990.)

Newsom ridiculed Dahle’s suggestion to cut the state’s gas tax as a “gimmick” and said the savings wouldn’t end up in drivers’ pockets after oil producers raised their prices again.

“These companies are ripping you off and ripping us off,” Newsom said.

Newsom has called a special session of the Legislature for Dec. 5 to try to push through a windfall profits tax on oil companies. After the debate, Newsom said his administration will unveil its tax proposal then because “it’s novel. No state has done this. We’re trying to get it right.”

Throwing money at problems: Dahle repeatedly returned to a theme of Newsom “throwing money” at the state’s problems but getting lackluster results.

“Talk is cheap, governor, you got to perform,” Dahle said. “Your leadership has not solved one problem.”

Newsom replied that Democrats helped to blunt the impact of inflation by distributing $9.5 billion in tax relief to 23 million Californians making up to $250,000 and couples making up to $500,000 in 2020 adjusted gross income.

Newsom said Dahle has opposed legislation on issues ranging from climate change to abortion rights. And Newsom ripped Dahle for opposing abortion even in the case of rape or incest.

“What my opponent believes is some 10-year-old that’s raped by her father should be forced to bear her brother or sister. His position is extreme,” Newsom said.

Dahle responded that Newsom’s support of Proposition 1, which would enshrine abortion rights in the state’s Constitution, is also extreme, saying it would permit abortion until birth.

Legal experts have dismissed those concerns. UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky told The Chronicle in September, I think that the clear intent is to protect current law, which protects abortions until viability. It does not create an absolute right to abortion; just as other rights in the state Constitution are not absolute.”

Newsom and the White House: In Dahle’s opening remarks, he thanked Newsom for appearing at the debate at the expense of pursuing “his dream of being president of the United States and actually coming to California.”

Newsom previously told The Chronicle he has “subzero interest” in running for president in 2024, and on Sunday committed to serving all four years of his term if re- elected. He defended his decision to speak out against former President Donald Trump and other top Republicans, which many have interpreted as having his sights set on a more national role.

Republicans are “attacking a women’s right to choose... banning books in unprecedented ways.... banning speech and rewriting history. This is a serious moment in American history, California history,” Newsom said. “I’ve had enough. So I’ll proudly and happily stand up.”

Dahle has three major challenges: A majority of voters (52%) don’t know enough about him to form an impression, according to a nonpartisan Berkeley IGS Poll taken last month. He doesn’t have enough money ($408,741 as of late September) to introduce himself to them. Newsom has $23 million left in the bank, and is spending more in support of Proposition 1 ($2.5 million) — the ballot measure that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution — than Dahle has raised for his entire campaign ($2.1 million).

And perhaps most challenging of all: Dahle is a Republican in a state where Democrats have a nearly 2-to-1 registration advantage.

Those are more than enough reasons for Republicans not to jump into the ring against Newsom. There wasn’t enough money or energy in the conservative donor community to back a Newsom challenger after the governor easily beat back a recall attempt in September 2021 with roughly the same margin of support (62% opposed the recall) that propelled him to victory over Republican John Cox in 2018.

Joe Garofoli is The San Francisco Chronicle’s senior political writer. Email: Twitter: @joegarofoli

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